Imran Syed is nationally recognized attorney, professor, and documentary film producer. As assistant director of Michigan’s Innocence Clinic, he and a coterie of supervised law students are at the forefront of criminal justice reform, investigating and litigating a wide variety of cases with special focus on forensic science-based innocence. Having litigated several arson wrongful convictions based on outdated science, Syed is an outspoken supporter of strategies needed to address obsolete scientific evidence and its role in false imprisonments. In Episode 93 of Open Mike, Syed and Mike discuss potential outcomes of the justice reform movement, and why arson cases may specifically lead the charge to widespread, national reform.

Show Notes

[00:14] Imran Syed bio and background as assistant director of the University of Michigan Innocence Clinic.

[00:58] Imran Syed, thank you for being on Open Mike today!

[01:25] You don’t have a giant ego, but let’s put it into perspective… how long has the Michigan Innocence Clinic been in existence, how many convictions have you overturned… give us some general statistics!

[03:28] In eleven years of being open, the Innocence Clinic has had twenty-four successful victories ranging from arson to murder.

[04:30] Let’s set the table for our viewers… how many cases do you get asked to review per year?

[06:09] On average, how many cases per year would you say you open?

[07:24] What percentage of the work you do is conducted by law students as opposed to the clinic’s three supervising attorneys?

[09:05] I know that the law students there, like yourself, are going on to do this for a living which has to be gratifying for you guys…

[10:17] I’ve interviewed six people who have been wrongfully convicted in Michigan, and the only reason they’re home with their families is because of organizations like the Innocence Clinic. Some of these cases you even worked on! How does the enormity of what you’re doing add up in your brain? How does that feel?

[13:33] You were instrumental in the Dwayne Provience case, which was one of the country’s first non-DNA innocence cases. Why was this particular case so groundbreaking?

[17:00] It feels like you can’t go another week with another wrongful conviction being overturned, right?

[19:42] Out of all these interviews I’ve been doing, and all these podcasts in this industry… I’ve met the most generous people. Your community is pretty special. When I’m reading through these cases preparing for an interview, the defense attorneys in wrongful convictions are usually just bad. What percentage of the time did exonerees have a stellar defense with the right experts and right arguments?

[22:57] You actually wrote a film on the case we were talking about called The Price of Providence… it won a few awards at the Great Lakes Film Festival, so congratulations on that! Tell us how about that project and how we can watch it!

[27:34] Another case you worked on, Walter Forbes — recently released after 37 years for a murder he didn’t commit. How long ago was he exonerated?

[27:58] Why don’t you take us through that… how long did you work on that case?

[34:54] And how is Walter Forbes now that he’s out of prison after 37 years?

[37:07] Talk about patience! This man should be giving lectures on the topic — I can’t even wait 37 minutes for an answer on some things, let alone 37 years. It’s unbelievable!

[40:13] It’s interesting, every exoneree I’ve met hasn’t come out of prison embittered, and it’s very consistent! They’re appreciative and they don’t want to waste another day being mad — and they’re all horrible stories! The only good aspect of these stories is that they’ve been released.

[41:28] One area that the Michigan Innocence Clinic specializes in is arson cases… I’ve never worked on any arson case — why are so many people imprisoned based on evidence surrounding arson?

[46:22] You have so much knowledge about arson cases… there are probably thousands of arson cases across this country right now being brought for wrongful reasons. Are you able to implement this knowledge and proliferate it to their defense attorneys, court-appointed or otherwise? Or are they on their own and forced to Google? How do you get the right information to the right people?

[48:48] I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention your clinic’s success in Abusive Head Trauma cases… It feels similar to what you’re describing in the arson world, which is basically junk science. Am I right?

[55:25] Maybe you and will one day have future conversations on this and civil attorneys across the country listening to this will be more inclined to help. I’m a big believer everyone should do a certain amount of pro bono hours per year, but not everyone does. Maybe with your professorship, we’ll be able to teach and shed some light on it!

[56:32] Any time there’s been reform, it has followed a civil litigation case with competent, qualified, oftentimes high-profile attorneys. Very rarely does it come out of criminal cases because no one has the resources to litigate the cases properly.

[58:58] Professor Imran Syed, thank you for being with us today and taking time to educate our listeners and viewers.

[59:38] If you know people who are interested in these issues, forward this episode to them and be sure to like and subscribe to our channel! Thank you for watching Open Mike!

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